The eight communities that make up G-8 are based in San Juan, the capital and largest city in Puerto Rico located in the Northern coast of the island. San Juan is the financial center of the island, a tourist resort and major port.
Caño Martín Peña, a 3.75-mile-long tidal channel, runs through the heart of the capital city. It connects the San José Lagoon with San Juan Bay, linking lagoons, wetlands, and canals in Piñones, Loíza, and Toa Baja, where rivers meet the sea. The channel is part of the San Juan Bay Estuary. Important natural, commercial, and tourist resources are located along the Estuary, such as the main seaport, airports, hotels, centuries-old communities, and urban centers.
In the beginning of the 20th century, El Caño was a unique natural area, with dense mangrove forests and great biodiversity. Unable to support their families in the countryside, thousands of families were forced to relocate to the city in search of jobs and began to fill in the wetlands along El Caño in order to have "land" on which to build their homes. The historical process of informal settlement was encouraged by subsequent government administrations, but these did not provide a sewage system. (http://cano3punto7.org/index-english.html).
Over the years, as the Martín Peña settlements expanded and became denser, the channel became narrower. Also, as the city of San Juan sprawled, the location of Caño Martín Peña came to be at the center of the metropolitan area, adjacent to the central business district.
Group of Eight Adjoining Communities of the Martin Peña Channel, G-8 Inc.
G-8 is a non-profit organization, incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, in the State Department on June 28, 2004. It brings together the community leadership of the eight communities surrounding Caño Martín Peña. The G-8, Inc., becomes the unifying entity that groups the community-based, civic and recreational organizations of each of the communities. The main purpose is to guarantee their permanence, in view of the relocation processes proposed in the Integral Development Plan of the Caño Martín Peña Special Planning District. Through the G-8, Inc., legislation is created that recognizes the community participation of the communities of Caño Martín Peña. By Law No. 489 of September 24, 2004, in its Article 5, the G-8, Inc., is empowered to submit the list of candidates that both the Hon. Governors like the Hon. The Mayor of San Juan will appoint the members of the Board of Directors of the Caño Martín Peña Link Project Corporation, representing the community sector. (http://g8pr.org).
Vision and Mission
The G8’s vision is to develop, maintain and strengthen the communities adjoining the Martin Pena Creek, promoting a sustainable and prosperous economy; that these communities can enjoy a secure, adequate and habitable infrastructure in a natural, healthy and clean environment for the enjoyment of its residents. Also, to promote the real and effective participation of the community residents in all aspects, including the development of the work plan and the decision-making process.
The G8’s mission is to promote the interest and effective and assertive participation of the residents of each of the eight communities through the development and establishment of programs, strategies and activities that lead to the permanence, self-management and holistic development, improving the quality of life of its residents (https://g8incpr.wordpress.com/%c2%bfquienes-somos/).
The G8 is a membership organization. Members are elected by communities through community assemblies every two years and there are about 120. There is no membership fee,and 96% of the members are women.
G8 is a community-based organization that strives to improve the quality of life of all residents of Caño Martín Peña. The G-8 has a board of directors elected every two years by the general assembly. It also has the positions of President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Sub-Treasurer, Secretary and Sub-Secretary. Each community board has its own president, and members.
The space of G8 belongs to the Land Trust which leases it to G8 for $1.00 a year.
Coalition and partner organizations
G8 works with the Land Trust and the government agency, Corporación ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña. It also works with PRODEV, which fights to prevent forced expropriation/eviction, and the Coalition of San Juan Leaders. G8 also receives support from the Hispanic Federation and Lucy Cruz, as President, works with RAND .
When, how and why did you join the organization?
This organization was created in 2001, more or less, when people arrived from El Departamento or the Autoridad de Carreteras, to see how the Caño Martin Peña dredging problem was going to work, which is something that we have been asking to be done for many, many years. When they got here, they saw that people were not completely clear about what dredging is for and what the goal is. Then leaders in this community started to gather and organize even though they didn’t know each other before. We began grouping both the leaders of the north side of Caño Martin Peña and those on the south side, so that body of water that divided us now unites us. We shared the fear of being displaced once the Caño Martín Peña is dredged. Finally, by 2002, the group of the 8 communities surrounding Caño Martín Peña was organized. It is known as G-8 because it impacts eight communities. In 2004, a law was created, Law 489, which created the corporation ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña. It became a government agency in charge of implementing the Comprehensive Development Plan for the Planning District of Caño Martin Peña, approved by the Planning Board of Puerto Rico. It included the Land Trust to guard community land and commanded that G-8 audits the government agency, Proyecto ENLACE, and the private agency, which is the Land Trust.
I started in 2006 when I had a group of faith-based youth because it was through the church. They contacted me because they had already contacted my mom, who was a community leader. That is where I got involved in this whole process, accompanying my mom and developing a larger group of young people called Young Leaders in Action. That's when I began to participate in the G8 and I'm still there. I really started leading at 14 with the Church but began in G8 at 18 years old and today I'm 61.
G8 is a grassroots organization. Grassroots organizations are those organizations that are born, in my case, from the community itself, to fulfill some purpose, to defend any objective that the community has. In my case, it is because of the dredging of the Caño Martin Peña, and also because the residents who were born and raised here had ancestors who fought to keep this land; it’s not for other people who have not been here.
It is a community-based organization, but there are also faith-based organizations, which come from churches and create and develop leadership. There are also recreational-based organizations for sporting purposes. Also, as in all sites, political organizations have been born out of a specific interest in supporting candidates. In the case of Caño Martin Peña, we have 12 community-based organizations. Among them, there is one faith-based and one recreational-based organization.
Foundation and Evolution of G8
This organization was created by convening the leaders of each of the communities. Each community chose its leadership to represent them in the G8, and every two years, they held an election and then a General Assembly. We do a General Assembly of all eight boards because it's about the communities, not the organizations alone. This creates the governing body of G8, then we make the board of directors and fill everything out: we register with the State Department and make a work plan because what we do is not random or improvised. Along with the people who were in the Highways Authority, the planner Libia Rodríguez, Dr. Alejandro Coté, and other staff start thinking, what can we do between the hundred and a half agencies that the government has? Which one is really going to deliver on what the community wants? That's when we decided, why don't we make an agency that works only for us? There was already a model from the Quarry Peninsula community that had done it before. Based on that model, we created Proyecto ENLACE Corporation and started looking for what we could do to stay in the community. We wanted to know what we could do so that we were not displaced like other communities in the wake of all the development projects starting to show up. That is when the Land Trust was created. We created the bill and forged a partnership with the University of Puerto Rico and its School of Law, the Interamerican University. This was our first official alliance, and all that knowledge came together to create this bill. We then took it to the Legislature and presented it to both the Senate and the House of Representatives, looking for our first allies. It was not easy, but at that time there was Governor Maria Calderón, and we continued and continued until they approved it.
Law 489 of 2004 created the Proyecto ENLACE Corporation to support the Land Trust, meaning that the director of Proyecto ENLACE is the same director of the Land Trust. As soon as Caño Martin Peña is dredged, the corporation ceases to exist and only the Land Trust remains, and G8 remains as that tax agent. The trust has to look after all those lands that were in the public domain, which includes maintaining them and renting them to build homes that we need. We had to house more than a thousand families, and we already housed four hundred or so, but we have five hundred families that need to be relocated because they literally live in the water of Caño Martin Peña. The trust locates those lots, prepares all the legal documentation, and if we get funds, it is built. If not, we buy a house within the communities that comply with all federal laws and the family or person is housed there. We relocate them not evict them, and so it means that if your house, for example, is a thousand dollars and I have to relocate you, I'm going to get you a healthy, safe and decent house, that's not in flood area, and then I'm going to move you there for those thousand dollars. That's what the person pays me, a thousand dollars, they don't pay me a single extra penny. Of course, you have your obligation to pay for water and light because that is the way it is. The person or family can sell it after ten years of living on it. Most people want to stay in the community. There are a few homes where people have died and the owners leave them and abandon them, so the houses become so deteriorated that it is more expensive to repair the house than to build a new one. So, as you have seen, we have some housing development plans that are being worked on if the funds come. We are starting to build soon, on land from the government, about 100 homes for the relocation of all those families, not only for dredging, but for other infrastructure projects that have to be done in the communities.
When we were looking for those models, we were approached by people from the United States. I wasn't in that process at first, but in the United States at the time there were more than two hundred and ten Land Trusts. That person from the United States came here to Puerto Rico and brought the trust model. Usually, the land trusts in the United States are made for forests with no housing, so we adapted them to our context, with housing, because we don’t have forests in Caño Martín Peña. It was taken to community meetings so that it was not the decision of the leaders only. Sometimes people are reluctant to go to the meetings, but the majority who attended liked it, so we adopted that project.
The Proyecto ENLACE Corporation has a board of directors who are mostly residents of Caño Martin Peña communities because that's how it was established. There are eleven members and of those eleven, six are community leaders, some named by the G8, but we also send a group of names to the governor and to the mayor to each choose one. The residents control the trust, as well. Most are residents because it was created by the community out of fear of displacement. We sought alternatives to an individual title, and finally, we found the Trust which we copied from the United States. It functions as a condominium, you own your apartment, you rent it, you sell it, you inherit it, you can have a mortgage, but you cannot sell the elevator, the park, the pool, the land, because that gives it value, and it gives value to everyone. Remember that this land belonged to the government of Puerto Rico and we practically took it away for the benefit of the community.
When the organization first started, there were about 15 leaders and one of the strongest voices was Juanita Otero Barboza, a community leader from the Israel area who is no longer with us. She was initially the vice president and then became president. She was a tremendous example for us because, even at the end of her days when she suffered from very severe cancer, she never stopped working, calling us, and following up. It was very sad for us, her cancer condition. Women are mostly the ones who run their communities within the G8. Women have greater responsibility, they like helping and serving their community. It is not that men do not participate, but women are mostly the ones who are chosen by the whole community because they have such a way of expressing themselves and saying “this is it, we have to go down this path,” as well as good administration.
At first, we were dedicated to basically everything, not only to fight for the dredging and permanence of the community. We began to create different projects in an alliance with both the Proyecto ENLACE of Caño Martín Peña and the Trust. All three organizations sat together and coordinated about 20-30 different programs. I am not clear on how many exactly because there are ones that had to be suspended because of the pandemic. We started looking for alternatives to help the community, and we created sports tournaments for kids to get them off the streets and avoid getting involved in the world of drugs. We started with basketball tournaments for the month of May. We then added another volleyball tournament for both boys and girls thinking about violence, and this tournament is called "Quileando la Violencia Machista” [Chilling Male Chauvinist Violence]. At the same time, we were in elementary schools with the guardians of prevention, giving not only health talks, but education on how to prevent such violence within the schools. Programs were also implemented for children with bad grades because their mom or dad could not read. Adult literacy classes were created, and many of these parents follow up to reach university. That's been very shocking for us because it's improving the quality of life for everyone. We also created a group of young people, “Young Leaders in Action,” which is for 10-16-year olds, but we have kids who already turned 30 and continue to attend as mentors and facilitators. This is for them to learn why we have fought so hard for these lands to stay in the community.
Every program, especially sports, creates some violence prevention workshops. We realized that when children in the communities played, they ended up fighting because “I am the one who scored the point, not you,” so we made violence prevention workshops a requirement. Before playing basketball, they had to take violence prevention workshops, and we managed not to have fights during the tournaments. We realized that the parents were the ones who provoked the violence the most, so we had to start penalizing not only the parents, but everyone who accompanied that group. If a situation of violence appeared, the group was penalized, and they had to take a workshop. The volleyball tournament was only for girls and was called "Quileando la Violencia Machista” because we understand that many of our women are dying at the hands of their partner. Although now it is starting to also be the other way around, women who are killing men. Women said that it was good that our workshops were taking place, but men had to be there because they are the ones who generate violence for the most part. They started to do that workshop for both girls and boys and now almost all three sports are mixed.
Major achievements and challenges
At first, our challenge was the lack of trust from residents because they thought that we belonged to a political party. Before, the leadership in the communities usually happened because a candidate came and chose someone on behalf of him, and that was the leader. They used to be called neighborhood commissioners and then called themselves political leaders. When we started telling them we were not political, that we were not going to defend any party and they saw that it was like that, that we were both with red and blue, then they began to open their doors. There were about 15 leaders in 2002, now we have about 120 young people, of which 35 to 40 are leaders. We are organizing them so that each one has a voice and also helps us.
Getting government agencies to sit down and listen to us was also a challenge. We started to convene the candidates of all political parties every four years to tell them the needs of our community. We created a commitment that everyone who goes there has to sign. It says that as soon as he or she takes office after being elected, he or she commits him or herself to complying from A to Z with everything he or she signed. That gives us greater strength because as soon as they win, independently of the party, we begin to ask, when do we start? They have to do it immediately because they are given 100 days to start meeting with us and that has given us a lot of results and respect.
Also, the work that is done within the three agencies has never been done here in Puerto Rico. It's the first time, so they have come to visit the model. Governors are amazed to see how a government agency as small as Proyecto ENLACE that only has 32 employees has achieved so much. Whenever we say, I'm from Caño Martín Peña, they open the door, but before they didn’t. Before they didn't even want to give us work, so little by little we have gained respect. We always show up in the fight, the newspapers regularly cover us. When we won the UN Habitat award and went to Ecuador to pick it up in 2016, it also opened some doors. We launched Puerto Rico into the whole world, which gave us a little more strength. Other countries, like France or England, write to the government here to say that they like what we are doing. Many people call and talk about Caño Martín Peña, sometimes we say my God, so much “Caño,” but it is okay. Many blessings have come to us and many alliances that have helped us with Hurricane Maria. As soon as Maria arrived, those foundations immediately helped us.
Another achievement is the number of allies we have. I believe that we have more than 100 allies and collaborators. We have almost every university in Puerto Rico with us, both public and private and everything is free. We are not charged anything for all the help they give us. We have a medical group here, and they are also allies and collaborators that do not charge us anything. If people have health plans, they charge, but the ones that don't, do not have to pay. The Museum of Contemporary Art brings us projects too, some folkloric and some to learn to paint. Medical schools have done studies on asthma and gastrointestinal problems. The Ponce School of Medicine, which is a well-known medical science precinct, also helps us. Private companies help us with donations to buy toys that the community needs. Banks also help, both Banco Santander and Banco Popular with their respective foundations have helped. I believe that this is one of the greatest achievements, and above all that we continue to work together with those three entities, which has opened doors for us, and it is something that is innovative.
I'm the president of the G8, but I’m not going to dictate over a community. I sit down with leaders and talk to them about improvements. They call me and consult me, but I always tell them, that's their decision. I can't fill myself with glory for something I didn't work for. I have to give each one their seat and that's something important here in the community. Yesterday I could not attend a workshop on healthy communication because this leader arrived who is an excellent human being but is too political. I told her, don't think about candidacy, think about the outcome in your community and why you are doing this. If everything changes every time there is a new leader, we will never start.
One achievement that it’s also a challenge is the formation and participation of young leaders in the organization. In some communities, children have the right to vote from the age of 8, others decided to make it 10. Each board decides the age because they live there, and they know what they need. Many young leaders are in the process of college or are the first in their families to enter a university, and it is very difficult for them to fulfill or acquire a position as president of the G8 because they do not have the time. I sometimes go out at 8 in the morning and work till after 9 at night and it’s all voluntary. I don't get a penny of any kind and I can do it because I am retired, but a young person needs to study and achieve his or her goals. There are few young leaders on the board because the meetings in their communities are done once a month or 2 times each month and that does not require them as much time as being on the G8 board would. We have a sub secretary and a treasurer who are young, but we have to communicate with them through WhatsApp because they have almost no time, however, we are giving them the opportunity to participate, and they will always have that opportunity.
Community and Citywide Planning Initiatives
Children are offered different workshops and participate with other youth groups, like the group of LIJAC (Lideres Jovenes en Accion or Young Leaders in Action). We also continue to create projects for adults called Proyecto Ríe [Project Laugh], where people over 60 can attend different workshops and games. Right now, we are planning to take them to the Botanical Garden. There’s not a lot of older people right now because of COVID. They don't want to go out or expose themselves and we have to respect that. We hope that once the pandemic passes, everything can continue to grow as expected. There are community gardens in public spaces, which are from the Trust. We convene the community, and they decide if they want to make a community garden or if they want to make a parking lot, or if they want to make a passive park, but with the requirement that at some point it can become housing. In the meantime, the community is giving it a use to prevent it from being a landfill.
Two years or so ago, the body of the College of Engineers and College of Landscape Architects donated houses for people who had lost their home or who could not live in the houses that they were in, and this project was done just two weeks ago. They were given to two of the families, in this case they were elderly and alone. The house was completely made of cement, furnished, and had solar panels and compost toilets, so that if anything happened the house was still functional, and these elderly people could live peacefully. This means that they don’t have to think about hurricanes. Houses are about to collapse, but can't be demolished yet, so we rented some safe houses while this final housing project is finished. They are going to own their houses, and they won’t owe anything, it’s completely for free. Two weeks ago, they delivered the first two houses. Now we are making a third, because G8 got funds.
Another project I can mention are the roofs in the wake of Hurricane Maria. About 1,200 roofs and 75 houses were lost, completely destroyed or partially destroyed. I lost my roof too and foundations came and started doing a census. The leaders who could join did, and then, suddenly a lot of volunteers appeared from the different universities who had done internships here, who knew about Caño Martín Peña. The newspaper announced our situation and we had more than 400 volunteers.
We got awnings from FEMA immediately, and volunteers started putting them up. The municipality and the government did not arrive for three months. They weren't prepared, they didn’t know where to start because it was really devastating for everyone. After a month and a half or maybe two months, the foundations were here. Lin Manuel [Miranda]  was the first to come here, the Hispanic Federation came, and then the Maria Fund was also here. Many foundations began to arrive and call us to ask how they could help us. We needed food and more awnings, so they went looking for funding from these organizations that had listened to us or visited us. When we finished putting awnings in our communities, they took the ones we didn’t need to Morovis and Loiza. We received food that came to us too, and mosquito repellent, which was distributed house by house. On the other hand, we started to see that since the debris was not collected and the rats began to reach our communities, we got a foundation to give us rat traps and poison, and we had to hire a company to set that all up.
We got trucks, then we made an alliance with the municipality to allow our debris trucks to arrive first and empty their load because they charged by the hour, not like the trucks of the municipality that can stay eternally. That's how the municipality helped us. We had volunteers fill the trucks with debris and help clean the houses of elderly people. We looked for doctors for diabetics and solar lamps were given away. We went more than six months without light, from September to February. There was even a community that was without light until March. The gas stations let us go to the front to get gas and pay later, so we could get out quickly because the lines were so long. There were a bunch of angels who helped us through this whole process. I think that has been one great achievement, to have allies. There are many people who have beautiful hearts, who want to serve, even when they no longer work in foundations, they still call us.
Following the Habitat Award when we went to Ecuador, we created many allies there who came to visit the trust. People came from France, Mexico, England, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. Those same people are our voices elsewhere, and as soon as they see something that can help us, they send us those links. They have come from Harvard, Yale, Saint Paul. The United States has come to do studies here and connected us with this group called RAND to talk about our emergency plans in Puerto Rico.
I'm on that advisory committee as a community leader. We are completing this draft study to see how we can encourage the state and municipalities to create a real emergency plan in conjunction with community leaders and community organizations. I’ve never seen something like this, and I'm very honored to be one of the people involved in this project. I think the study is now completed, and every month we get together for a little while to talk about how it’s going so we don't lose that connection.
We have a lot of communication with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the people from the United States who are supporting us from there. We've got Velasquez [Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez] there and a lot of senators and representatives visited us in their campaign season even though we don't have a vote there. We have voices supporting the protection of Caño Martin Peña, and when they learned that the Body of Engineers did not approve it, they gave the battle to [President]Biden because it was in the time of Trump when that decision was made. The bodies of water belong to the body of engineers of the United States, and we do not understand why. There's a lot of people writing to senators and representatives, and the governor here just sent a letter to Biden to put it on top of the priorities.
Involvement in Citywide Climate Change Initiatives and COVID 19
Since we are located around a body of water, we automatically have to deal with the environment and everything that is climate change. Our body of water belongs to the estuary of the bay of San Juan. That means that you enter through the bay of San Juan and pass through Caño Martín Peña if it isn’t clogged up. Then you get to the airport and you can get to Canóvanas y Loíza through the canals as well as to Guaynabo, Bayamón and other areas. Everything would be through the canals if it were open, and once it gets unclogged, climate change is going to affect us. It does not affect us as much as those who are on the coast, but we do know that the variation of water can affect us. All the time we're looking out for the effects of climate change. So, in our efforts to relocate all those people who live on the fringes of Caño Martín Peña and provide health and adequate infrastructure to communities, we are going to have a waterfront along the Caño so that if the water comes up, it doesn’t get to the community unless it's something like a super tsunami of 100 feet or 200. We've seen other places flood with tide changes, and we don’t see ourselves affected, not a single drop. However, the other areas do. It is a struggle that we have with the Government because they want to displace us because we are flooded. However, you still give permits by the sea, so who are the people who are being impacted the most? We are not being shocked by storm surges or anything, we are shocked because there is no system of sanitary infrastructure for rainfall. We collect water from other communities, both for the north and the south. Our filter is too small for that amount of water and that's why it becomes backwater. That's our constant struggle and we're also fighting with FEMA, which puts our communities as flooded in a map and it is wrong. Only 6 streets flooded and you’re saying that the whole Caño Martín Peña is flooding when it's not true. You don't live here. You haven't seen it and you don’t know it. There is video evidence and that is a fight that we have already been winning. They already have almost all of Puerto Rico as a flood zone, so if you get me out of here, you're going to put me where exactly? If it's also flooded, there’s no logic in what they did on that map and they are still wrong. We also fight because on those maps, we're supposed to have the right to raise homes up to three feet. It is the government here that's imposing the rules, not the federal government, and then that's the struggle we obviously have with the new change of administration. There are other visions that are thinking not about displacement but improving the quality of life of the people who are there.
The funds help us to stop flooding the community because we don't have a sewer system. We already have almost a 90 percent less chance that communities will flood. The municipality has given maintenance to the sewer system that it didn’t have before, meaning that when it rains it takes less time to drain. It may take a day, but in Hurricane Maria it lasted three days. Despite all the debris, we no longer had much water in the communities. It used to take a month. We were flooded from only one day of rain, and the municipality was not cleaning the sewer system. Now, thank God, we are seeing an improvement in that process. That's why we're in constant relation with EPA, and we have good communication with them. We are also always in constant communication with the estuary and the Body of Engineers too. We're not exempt from the tide, even if we don't get it now, we don't know later.
In terms of COVID, obviously it is a major concern, and we saw that there are a lot of people without masks, especially elderly people. I told my coordinator: we're going to hand out masks. We started buying masks, alcohol, and hand sanitizer and handing them out house by house. First, we gave the community leaders everything because they were going out on the streets. We also distributed information to wash your hands. These kinds of things, asking if there was anyone sick in the house, seeing how we could help them and so on. So, we did that for about three or four months. Everyone has a mask now because they are already more accessible, and people in the community began making masks out of fabric. No one was prepared for this, so not even the business that sold them had enough. We got food from the elderly solicitor, and we had to take to the streets to look for our elders and take them food house by house. There were two boxes of food that could last them for about three months or so. And then the government started bringing the wagons that are still out there circling, but this food is perishable. It's a problem because after three days some of the food was no longer edible. It was not an easy situation because even the employees of the government agency felt threatened for a moment, and I understand. The Trust had to protect itself as well, so the leaders in this case were the ones that put ourselves out there. We said, we are on the street and we have to go out, so we will take care of this situation. Now the problem here in Puerto Rico is the tourists who come and do whatever they want. That’s the biggest problem because they penalize us, but tourists aren’t being penalized. It's a situation where they were getting imprisoned, and we said, why are you going to take me prisoner? Why am I going to get a hundred-dollar fine? Because I left the mask? I have it in my pocket. Sometimes the tourists come without masks and they don’t do anything even though they're supposed to be quarantined when they get here. They shouldn't even travel because they have to be here for 14 days. We're passing it on to a lot of tourists who come and don't want to follow rules.
Visions for the Future
To make our goal clear, to dredge Caño Martín Peña, to make the Trust stronger, to help communities overcome poverty. We cannot sit down and expect the government to do things, we have to do them as the actors of our future.
Lessons from G8
I believe that you can learn perseverance, that one cannot be carried away by others. Persevering in what we do and believe in. We're in a community between some poverty levels. For me, poor is the one who doesn't have food in the house, the one who sleeps on a stone and dirt floor. But when you have a roof over you to sleep and you can eat, I think sometimes that there is poverty of the spirit and of money. I think Maria uncovered all that because there are many communities that are rising, are being resilient, are moving to be more proactive, they are realizing that we have a power greater than what the government has and that together we can do many more things. We belong to a lot of groups of organizations, even from the United States. I’m in one called RAND who works with emergency management and is creating some studies and projects here that I never thought I would be called to participate in.
Women are stronger and braver; we throw you out. We’re not afraid of the results, if it went wrong, it went wrong. We are like that, braver. Not all men are not brave, this organization was run by Mario Núñez who directed for two or three terms. Now he is the director of Proyecto ENLACE Corporation to Caño Martín Peña and is a resident of the community because he lives here in Las Monja.
Once the corporation finishes its mandate, we hope that the G8 will follow the battle because we represent the people of the community who want to push forward. We have a microbusiness project organizing people so that all sellers in the community or those with business are in compliance with all laws and understand why that's important. When an event arises that can lead to funds for micro-enterprises, they are alerted so that they can apply and participate. We have an artisanal agro-market that is from the artisans of the community, it is made every second Sunday of the month, we started in February, in March we had it too. Now we have a blessing that Plaza las Americas invited us, and we will be there exposing our handmade products, guiding people and taking advantage of the opportunity because I am there. I have been an artisan since many years ago, I am also selling my little things.
I invite you to come to our communities and meet us because we want to stay here, instead of telling us to leave. I invite you to come, you may fall in love and want to live here. We are community leaders, but not everyone likes who we are and what we do, especially the leaders who are politicians because we are taking them away, we are displacing them, so to speak, because people start to trust us more than in them. We have more results, because I go in person and I ask them, have I ever asked you what your party is? No, you can't say I’m a politician.
We've been gaining people's trust. I go down the street and talk to everybody. I go to the communities, and then people get to know me. Although I am the president, I also live here, and I am there giving a workshop for this community. I say, but look, have you thought about the flooding of this community and the people? So, I'm provoking the same community to ask questions, to not be silent in the workshop or towards the information they are given.
You can´t change the comprehensive development plan every time you change leadership because this is something that's already passed by law, and then you come one time and change it, then the next year, they will ask why did you change it? In addition, this is not a benefit for us personally, it is our collective benefit, so we have to open the mind to people for them to think collectively and not individually. This is the most challenging part, but it can be done.
First, we tell them it is because we love these communities that were forged by our parents and grandparents. I've been here 61years, and my mom will turn 90. We love these communities. I grew up, I studied in public school, I have my high school degree. My sisters have been great professionals too. My blessed brother owns two hardware stores and others have graduated or are already retired. There are teachers, school principals, nurses, my sister was the nurse supervisor and she also retired. The fact that you live in a poor community doesn't mean you can't grow up and get to achieve whatever you want. We love our community and here, we only want a sewer system that will allow the community not to flood. Sometimes people come out of other places and say, I like that community because they are organized, and they are not waiting for the government to give them things.
We have the agro-artisanal market, which we are testing because not many people are allowed. We do that every second Sunday of the month and those of us who are artisans participate. We have been with the market for two years, but I have been an artisan since 1997. Since I'm with the Market Committee, I pay five dollars, because they're providing a service, but the others pay $15 to be there in that space, unless they sell food, if they’re food sellers, they pay $30 for that specific day. Everyone brings their tent, their table, their tablecloth and if it is an artisan then he or she has to certify to us that indeed he or she is an artisan, if he or she is a manualist, then obviously, we leave him, and we give him a promotion and we do different activities, workshops and so on. What happens is that this time because of the pandemic they have not been able to do workshops because there were full of people, because the workshops were free and gave free parking because the universities came to offer those workshops, to make Chiringa, and to make bracelets. Artisans offered to teach you how to paint and make postcards, such things are sometimes aimed at children or adults; we have to promote our culture as well.
 RAND Corporation. After Hurricane Maria, RAND assisted FEMA in disaster recovery efforts. See https://www.rand.org/hsrd/hsoac/projects/puerto-rico-recovery.html
 Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority.
 Lin-Manuel Miranda American actor, composer, lyricist, and writer who created and starred in stage productions that blended modern musical forms with classic musical theatre. Perhaps his best-known work was Hamilton, a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was born to parents of Puerto Rican origin and grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood in northern Manhattan (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lin-Manuel-Miranda).
- Caño 3.7 Organization: http://cano3punto7.org/index-english.html
- Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust: https://world-habitat.org/world-habitat-awards/winners-and-finalists/cano-martin-pena-community-land-trust/#peer-exchange
- Urban Waters Learning Network: https://urbanwaterslearningnetwork.org/resources/proyecto-enlace-del-cano-martin-pena-restoring-ecosystem-building-resilient-communities-puerto-rico/
- EPA - Urban Waters Partnership: https://www.epa.gov/urbanwaterspartners/urban-waters-and-cano-martin-pena-martin-pena-channel-puerto-rico